How will Arts Council cuts affect poetry?

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Posted: 4 November 2010

The whole country is reeling from the Comprehensive Spending Review but Arts Council England has received a big cut of just under 30% in its funding, with instructions from the Culture Secretary to cut 50% of its administration costs just months after it completed a restructure which reduced its administration costs to 3.4% after a 15% reduction in operating costs just this year..

Jeremy Hunt has also asked that cuts of no more than 15% over four years are passed on to regularly funded organisations and for 2011-12 the Poetry Book Society, in common with most other organisations, has just been told that it will receive be a cut of 6.9%. So how's all this going to affect poetry, which is in receipt of most of the literature funding handed out by ACE?

Most funded poetry organisations will be forced to cut their programme and poetry publishers will have to cut their lists. They will cut out the more financially risky or onerous work, because that's what it makes sense to do, and this means that the more established poets will continue to be published. Getting a first collection taken on by a publisher is going to be more difficult than ever though, and poets may have to think hard about alternative ways of building their careers, such as submission to print and online magazines, unpaid readings and even self-publishing.

For the bigger publishers such as Bloodaxe and Carcanet, this is how they will weather the storm. Carcanet has even taken a bullish approach and has just announced an increase in staff and plans to grow. Neil Astley of Bloodaxe says: ‘We were told to plan for a cut of around 10% next year, so we can work with 6.9%, which will enable us to continue to publish the same number of titles in the coming year and to maintain our diverse range of authors, but we won't be able to publish as many large selected or collected editions. It is highly likely that cuts in the longer term will be savage, and that will seriously affect our ability to serve writers and readers.'

Salt Publishing, which is not regularly funded by ACE, has just announced the launch of Salt Ireland, a new list to take advantage of the wealth of poetic talent in Ireland. But some of the smaller publishers will be badly affected by the cuts and there's the added threat that around 100 regularly funded organisations are expected to lose out altogether in the process of re-applying for regular funding with new mechanisms which are about to be revealed.

All the regularly funded organisations are going to have to think creatively about the future, with the emphasis on cutting out any unnecessary expenditure, but many are already tightly run by staff who are certainly not in it for the money, so this means cutting programmes of one kind or another. Fewer tours or readings, smaller festivals and less courses and other opportunities for writers will be the unavoidable outcome. Organisations such as Poetry Arts and Music Platform and Ambit magazine have shown how to do without funding. ACE will be urging organisations to work together, collaborate, merge back office functions or even go for full mergers, but in many cases these organisations are so small that they are only run by a skeleton staff anyway.

Poetry readers will still be able to find a good range of poetry available to them, although there will inevitably be less work from new poets. Other than the staff in the poetry organisations and poetry publishers, it is probably the poets who will suffer most in all this, as there will be fewer opportunities to get their work into print and fewer events for poets to read at, in short less opportunity all round. The internet and new technology do offer a wealth of opportunities but perhaps it's as well that most poets don't attempt to support themselves through their writing. The golden days of state support for poetry are over, it's back to starving in a garret now.



Chris Holifield
is the Director of the Poetry Book Society, which works to promote poetry sales and readership and also runs a new poetry website, www.poetrybookshoponline.com. She is also the co-founder of www.writersservices.com, the largest writers' website in the UK, which offers a range of information and services for writers.

Categories: Poetry News

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